Don’t look now college basketball fans from coast to coast, but the Kentucky Wildcats are figuring this whole basketball thing out.
In the nick of time.
In a season like no other and starting a season the roughest that any Wildcat team has in the modern era across the board, the Cats have somehow found their footing in 2021 and are riding a three-game winning streak after throttling Florida 76-58 in Gainesville Saturday.
How the Cats are doing it is just as remarkable as it is that they actually accomplishing it. The formula for their success lies in little things as much as any big thing.
In the Cats 1-6 start, as bad as it was, the problems that needed to be corrected were not errors that were deal-breakers. Rather, it was small things that could be corrected through time and patience.
In most of the early games, the Cats suffered from youth and an unforgiving schedule. With Covid-19 raging, UK wasn’t able to play a softer preseason and opening schedule which all teams use to develop, especially teams with youth. It’s hard to grow up when you play blue bloods like Kansas and North Carolina, rivals like Notre Dame and Louisville, and probable postseason teams like Richmond and Georgia Tech.
But the Cats survived, practiced, and improved.
Step one was surviving on the road at Mississippi State behind the coming-out party of Dontaie Allen and playing tough when they had to win in double overtime.
Step two was beating Vanderbilt (always a battle) with execution and toughness to win on a game-winning three with under 30 seconds to play.
Step three was getting back their lone veteran presence (Keion Brooks Jr.) and playing team basketball on both ends of the floor in their most impressive performance of the season.
The narrative going forward will be can the Cats maintain their momentum? The sledding gets tougher with conference-leading Alabama visiting Rupp Arena Tuesday and a road trip to Auburn Saturday. But rest assured this young group of Cats is getting better play by play, game by game.
Just in the nick of time.
Here are the postgame notes via UK Athletics.
Team Records and Series Notes
- Kentucky won its third in a row and is now 4-6 overall, 3-0 in the Southeastern Conference. Florida is 5-3, 2-2 in the SEC.
- Kentucky leads the series 105-40 and has won the last five vs. the Gators.
- It’s the first five-game winning streak vs. Florida since a five-game run from 2015 to 2017.
- UK has won the last three games played in Gainesville. That’s the Wildcats’ first three-game winning streak at Florida since winning three consecutive games from 2002 to 2004.
- It was UK’s largest margin of victory at UF since a 79-54 win in 1998.
- Next: on Tuesday, UK plays host to Alabama. Game time is 9 p.m. and will be televised on ESPN.
- Brandon Boston Jr. had 13 points, his most since the North Carolina game on Dec. 19. He also made his first 3-pointer since the Notre Dame game on Dec. 12.
- He had season-bests with 6-of-6 free throws and four steals and was efficient handling the ball with three assists and no turnovers.
- Davion Mintz had 13 points, making 5-of-7 field goals.
- Making his first appearance of the season and playing 24 minutes, Keion Brooks Jr. scored 12 points on 6-of-8 shooting, leading the Wildcats with six rebounds and four assists.
- Brooks missed the first nine games with a left leg injury.
- His last game was coincidentally the 2019-20 season finale at Florida, an 18-point second-half comeback victory.
- Olivier Sarr played well, tallying 10 points and two assists before foul trouble in the second half limited his action.
- Isaiah Jackson tied his season high with nine points. He also tied Brooks for most rebounds with six while posting four blocked shots and a steal.
Coach John Calipari
- Calipari is now 334-83 at UK.
- Calipari has a 779-223 all-time on-court record.
- UK is 271-48 under Calipari against Associated Press unranked teams.
- This is the sixth time in Calipari’s 12 seasons at UK that the Wildcats have begun 3-0 in the SEC.
- He is 20-8 all-time vs. Florida.
- Kentucky shot 55.8% from the field, a shade below the season high of 55.9% in the opener vs. Morehead State.
- UK had three double-digit runs today, 10-0 in the first half and 10-0 and 13-0 in the second half.
- Kentucky limited Florida to 37.5% from the field. UK is 205-20 (91.1%) under Calipari when the opponent shoots 40% or less.
- The Wildcats held Florida to 58 points. UK is 187-8 (95.9%9) under Calipari when the opponent scores 63 or less.
- Florida had 16 turnovers and UK capitalized with 25 points.
- UK had 31 points off the bench, paced by Brooks’ 12 points.
- Kentucky dished out 18 assists, tied for a season best (also did it vs. Morehead State and Mississippi State).
- UK scored 1.15 points per possession, tied for the second-best mark of the season.
- The Wildcats blocked seven shots, the third straight game with seven or more swats.
During the Three-Game Win Streak
- Kentucky has made 22 of 47 on 3-point shots, 46.8%. In the first seven games, UK shot 25 percent from long range.
- UK has made 41 of 53 free throws, 77.4%. In the first seven games, the Wildcats shot 66.2% at the charity stripe.
- Kentucky has been plus or even in assist/turnover ratio all three games. UK was plus or even in assists/TO in only two of the first seven games.
- UK has blocked 26 shots, an average of 8.7 rejections. In the first seven games, UK averaged five blocks per contest.
- Kentucky has 26 steals, an average of 8.7 thefts. In the first seven games, UK averaged 5.9 steals.
- Four players have scored in double figures each game. That happened only once in the first seven.
In the First Half
- The starting lineup consisted of Davion Mintz, Brandon Boston Jr., Devin Askew, Lance Ware and Olivier Sarr for the second time this season.
- Isaiah Jackson was the first substitute at the 17:42 mark.
- Trailing 10-5, UK got a 10-0 run that was sparked by a pair of Dontaie Allen 3-pointers.
- Tied at 24, Kentucky’s 11-3 run gave the Wildcats their largest advantage of the half at 35-27.
- Kentucky led at halftime, 35-29.
- Hustling defense led the way, as seven UK steals were part of nine Florida turnovers, leading to 15 points off turnovers.
- UK is 2-3 this season when leading at intermission.
In the Second Half
- Kentucky opened the second half with Askew, Mintz, Boston, Brooks and Sarr.
- UK took the lead to 45-33 at the first television timeout. Brooks keyed the early spurt with four points, one rebound, two assists, a block and a steal in the first four minutes.
- UK followed with a six-point trip — a 3-pointer by Mintz, a UF foul under the basket that gave UK the ball back, and a 3 by Askew that completed a 10-0 run to give the Cats their then-largest lead at 51-33.
- Florida responded to get it within 53-41 but the Gators got no closer as a 13-0 Cat scratch put the game away at 66-41.